Tips for transporting and storing breast milk

From storing breast milk in the freezer to traveling to and from work, here is our go-to guide

There is an art to transporting and storing breast milk. That liquid gold that you’ve lovingly pumped must be protected in transit and stored properly. Here’s a comprehensive guide for all of you on-the-go moms

What types of containers to use and avoid

There’s nothing worse than a leaky breast milk storage bag. The best ones are made of sturdy materials and have a double-zip top so you won’t lose a drop. We always turn them upside down to make sure the seal is fully closed. An alternative is glass or plastic screw-top bottles, like the ones you probably got with your pump. Tighten those lids and place them in your travel bag in a way that ensures they won’t tip and roll around.

How to store your milk during the day

If a refrigerator is not available, don’t despair. Use an insulated cooler bag with ice packs to keep your milk cool. Breast milk can be stored this way for up to 24 hours (which is really handy when you forget to transfer your milk to the fridge after work and don’t realize it until the next morning!). Once you get your milk to the fridge or freezer, place it in the back of the main part where the temps stay most consistent and cool. We are obsessed with these Packit coolers.

How to clean the storage containers

Storage bags are for a one-time use, so toss those once you’ve used the milk. If you’re going to be transporting and storing milk on a regular basis, invest in some bottles. They can be cleaned with your pump parts in hot, soapy water and rinsed well—or most are top-rack dishwasher-safe.

How to transport your milk

Let’s say you’ll need a bottle for your baby while you’re out and about for a few hours. Good news: Unlike cow’s milk, breast milk is pretty hardy and can be left out at room temperature for up to six hours. So it’s as easy as popping a bottle in the diaper bag—no ice packs needed. You can stick to a four-hour limit if you want to play it extra safe, but some sources say you can even go beyond six hours so basically, you have flexibility. If you’re going to be away from a fridge for longer, tote a small insulated cooler bag with some frozen ice packs and you’re good to go.

How to store breast milk in the freezer

For freezing breast milk, we recommend using storage bags. Not only are they designed for freezing, but they take up much less room than a bottle. If you’ll be freezing the milk, leave about an inch of room in the container as liquids expand when frozen, and remember that plastic can become brittle after freezing, so handle with care. We love Lansinoh storage bags. Expert tip: Try to remove as much air from the bags as you can before freezing to help keep the milk from getting freezer burn.

How the temperature of the milk dictates how long you have to use it

You’ll find that different sources have varying guidelines for how long milk is “good for” depending on how it’s stored. But here are the basic rules of thumb for healthy, full-term babies:

  • Fresh milk at room temperature: 4 to 6 hours
  • Previously frozen milk that has been thawed in a refrigerator: 24 hours
  • In an insulated cooler bag: 24 hours
  • In a refrigerator: 72 hours to 8 days
  • Freezer: 3 to 6 months
  • Deep freezer: 6 to 12 months

While breast milk is precious and life-sustaining, it is not as fragile and delicate as people might think. It can be transported, stored, scalded, cooled, frozen, thawed, warmed, poured and much more. The key is to express, collect and store the milk in as clean a manner as possible. If you ever question whether milk is still good, smell it and taste it. Trust us, you’ll know if it’s past its prime—and rest assured that your baby won’t drink milk that’s gone bad.